“Parliament of the World’s Religions”

January 21, 2010 by cgsstlouischapter

                                                       by David C. Oughton

     My doctoral studies and teaching have focused on the world’s religions, interreligious dialogue, and the role of the religions for promoting world peace.  From December 3-9, 2009, I was very fortunate to further my studies by participating in the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia.    This event involved about 6,000 people from all of the major religions of the world.
     The first World Parliament of the Religions took place during the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.  That was the first time in human history when representatives of the major religions sat together on the same stage as equals.  Delegates there hoped that the world’s religions would make war not on each other but on the giant evils that afflict humanity.  But two world wars and sixty other wars followed.  Many modern philosophers and religious leaders have indicated their belief that there will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions.  Furthermore, there will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions and an agreement on a global ethic.
     So it was decided to hold international religious parliaments in recent years.  Along with several others from St. Louis, I have previously attended the Parliaments at Chicago in 1993; at Cape Town, South Africa in 1999; and at Barcelona, Spain in 2004.  Since there has been an attempt to move the Parliament to different continents, the 2014 Parliament will probably be held somewhere in Asia or in Latin America.  The modern parliaments are religious conventions that are open to anyone who is committed to learning about and dialoging with people from other religions.  Each day of the Parliament involves meetings, presentations, and panels about different religions of the world or a particular global problem.  Attending religious services is also an option.  I attended services led by representatives of Zoroastrianism, Sikhism, and Orthodox Judaism.
     I was part of a program explaining what is being done in local communities to promote positive relations between people of different religions.  I explained to some people from various countries how St. Louis’ Dialogue Group of the World’s Religions and Philosophies, which I have organized for the last 25 years, and groups such as Interfaith Partnership/Faith Beyond Walls, the Living Insights Center, and the St. Louis Holocaust Museum promote many interreligious programs in the St. Louis area.
     I learned much from attending programs about the religions of indigenous peoples such as the Aborigines of Australia, tribal religions of Africa, and Native American religions.  Representatives of these religions promoted the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  I also attended sessions on conflict resolution in the Middle East, the role of religion in peacemaking, and the religious responses to global problems such as human trafficking.
     Two sessions in particular relate to the goals of Citizens for Global Solutions.  The first concerned the Charter for Compassion, written by Karen Armstrong, a British scholar who has written many books about the relations between the monotheistic religions.  According to Armstrong, one of the most urgent tasks of our generation is to build a global community in which people of all religions and nations can live together in peace.  In our globalized world, everyone is becoming a neighbor.  Promoting the ancient religious and ethical principles of compassion and reciprocity, often expressed as the Golden Rule, has become an urgent necessity.  The charter calls upon all to restore compassion to the center of morality and religion, to reject any interpretation of scripture that breeds hatred or violence, to teach accurate and respectful information about other religions, to appreciate cultural and religious diversity, and to cultivate empathy for the sufferings of others, even those regarded as enemies.
      The other session which relates to our goals concerned “A New Ethical Manifesto for the Global Economy” that has been developed by the ecumenical Swiss theologian Hans Küng and representatives of various religions.  Professor Küng was also the main author of the “Declaration toward a Global Ethic” which he presented at the Parliament in Chicago in 1993.  At the Parliament in Melbourne, Küng applied the principles of the global ethic to business and economics.  He argued that laws are not effective without morality.  He said that the recent global economic crisis was caused by a failure of economic regulations but also by a lack of basic ethical norms such as a lack of truthfulness, corporate greed, and “casino capitalism.”  He emphasized that people from all religions can agree on universal ethical values such as non-violent conflict resolution, honesty, human rights, labor rights, working against corruption in government and economics, working for justice, and protecting the environment.
     I am convinced that the Parliaments of the World’s Religions are important forums for promoting humatriotism, world citizenship, and a global ethic for the global community.  The world’s religions have a responsibility of building a secure foundation for these values so that a democratic system of enforceable world laws can develop the means for outlawing war and solving our global problems.
     (Dr. Oughton is an Associate Professor in the Theology Department at Saint Louis University where he teaches courses on the world’s religions.  He serves as the Treasurer of the St. Louis Chapter of Citizens for Global Solutions.)

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